NEWARK, NJ – The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today continued its crackdown on noncompliant home improvement contractors with the issuance of Notices of Violation to 26 contractors, seeking a total of $251,602 in civil penalties and consumer restitution, based on complaints and referrals by consumers across New Jersey.
The Division will continue to take such actions against allegedly unregistered and/or otherwise non-compliant home improvement contractors throughout the year, and will announce them on a quarterly basis, in order to protect and inform New Jersey’s consumers.
“The great majority of New Jersey’s registered home improvement contractors are proud to provide honest, quality service to their clients,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. “But the fact that home improvement-related issues remain the number one consumer complaint in New Jersey means that this enforcement action is needed to deter those contractors who violate our consumer protection laws.”
Of the contractors being cited today, the Division has directed all but three to pay a total of $153,582 in restitution to consumers. The restitution amounts range from $200 to $27,400, and represent the amounts allegedly owed to consumers due to the performance of shoddy work, or the failure to start and/or finish work for which consumers had pre-paid.
In addition, the Division is citing all 26 contractors for various violations of New Jersey’s Contractors’ Registration Act. For example, 16 are cited for soliciting home improvement work despite having failed to register with the Division, as required by law. Others are cited for violations such as failure to provide consumers with detailed, written contracts, which are required by law for all home improvement contracts costing more than $500. The State has assessed a total of $97,750 in civil penalties against the 26 contractors, in addition to the assessed consumer restitution.
“Including the contractors we’re citing today, thus far in 2014, the Division of Consumer Affairs has ordered a total of 95 allegedly unregistered and/or otherwise non-compliant contractors to pay more than $1.2 million in restitution to New Jersey consumers, and $374,000 in civil penalties,” Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve C. Lee. “We will continue these enforcement actions throughout the year in order to protect consumers and ensure a fair playing field for New Jersey’s many honest contractors.”
Today’s action follows the Division’s July 16, 2014 announcement of Notices of Violation to 68 home improvement contractors, seeking a total of $1,046,978 in consumer restitution and $276,250 in civil penalties. Home improvement complaints are typically the largest consumer complaint category the Division of Consumer Affairs receives each year – as was the case in 2013, when the Division received 1,434 consumer complaints about home improvement contractors.
Each of the contractors receiving a Notice of Violation has the opportunity to contest the alleged violation, or the opportunity to correct the violation by desisting from any practices in violation of the law, paying a civil penalty and/or consumer restitution where required, and submitting an application for registration, if not registered. Each contractor also may contest the Division's assessment of consumer restitution.
Tips for Consumers, When Hiring a Contractor:
Learn about any contractor before deciding to hire them. It is ideal to work with a contractor who is recommended by people you know. It also is advisable to ask the contractor for references and speak with those references about the contractor's work.
Contact the Division of Consumer Affairs to learn if the contractor is duly registered to perform home improvement work in New Jersey, and learn whether the contractor has been the subject of consumer complaints and/or legal action by the Division. You can call the Division at 800-242-5846 or use the Division's website, NJConsumerAffairs.gov.
Before hiring the contractor, demand a copy of the contractor's liability insurance policy and contact the insurer to learn whether the policy is valid.
Obtain a written contract. Contracts for home improvement projects costing $500 or more must be in writing. They must include the legal name, business address, and registration number of the contractor as well as a start date, completion date, description of the work to be done, and the total price.
Make sure all warranties and guarantees are in writing, and that the contract states the name brands or quality/grades of the materials to be used.
Ensure that all applicable construction permits are obtained by the contractor, from the appropriate municipality.
Remember that it is customary not to pay for the entire project in advance. The general practice is to pay for one-third in advance, one-third halfway through, and one-third upon completion.
Information for Home Improvement Contractors:
To advertise and perform home improvement work legally in New Jersey, contractors must register with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. View registration materials and information.Investigators Joseph Iasso, Loretta Creggett, Michelle Davis, Michael Meola, and, Waiman Yee, led by Supervising Investigator Jen Micco of the Division of Consumer Affairs Office of Consumer Protection, conducted these investigations.Deputy Attorneys General from the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law represented the State in these actions.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint online with the State Division of Consumer Affairs or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.